Blurred Lines of Feminism
by Emily Thorburn
A couple of months ago, if you had stopped and asked me who Robin Thicke is, I would have looked at you blankly. As someone whose musical knowledge doesn’t spread much beyond One Direction (I know, I’m sorry), Thicke’s decades in the music industry have passed me idly by. However, this year, Thicke’s smash hit ‘Blurred Lines’ has made his presence in the music industry hard to ignore. Famed for its (so – called) offensive and misogynist lyrics as well as its ‘risqué’ video, (spoiler alert: it contains nude girls), it’s safe to say it has caused something of stir.
Critics have argued repeatedly that Thicke’s lyrics degrade and objectify women, while some UK Student’s Associations have gone as far as to ban the song from their respective campuses. Feminist blog The Vegenda described Thicke’s latest musical baby as “generally an orgy of female objectification”, while a group of New Zealand students created a feminist parody, ‘Defined Lines’ in an attempt to showcase their disdain
Poor old Robin has certainly taken a verbal hit. Thicke claims that song is poking fun at the extremity of R ‘n’ B lyrics and is actually a satire. The song, he claims is also poking fun at how easily audiences can misinterpret the meaning behind song lyrics. Thicke, who married his high school sweetheart in 2005, also claimed that the song is a feminist icon as all the men involved have a deep – rooted respect of women (demonstrated by their loving, stable relationships) as well as the fact that the female stars of video consented to taking part.
Personally, where appropriate, I would consider myself a feminist. While I may not actively participate in ceremonial bra burning or donate my wages to UK Feminista, I would strive to create an equal society, where women can enjoy the same freedoms as men. And yet, there are only some elements of this song that I would argue are offensive.
It may sound like a contradiction, being both a feminist and not repulsed by this track and I’m sure that any readers may find themselves suddenly somewhat perplexed. However, to a degree, I agree with Mr. Thicke. Contrary to popular belief, and writing from a feminist point of view, I would suggest that this song is in fact (in certain ways) triumph of feminism. Primarily because of freedom and liberty.
Feminism is without a doubt a debated, difficult and complex ideology to get your head around, but it is also subjective and open to one’s own interpretation. For me, the definition is freedom and liberty: women being empowered to make their own their choices in a non-judgemental society. It is worth considering before we send Thicke to the metaphorical gallows for dancing playfully with naked girls, that none of the women in question were forced to partake. In fact, I’m willing to bet they were paid a pretty penny for their involvement. These women had the complete freedom to choose their own actions, and as such, were able to profit from their bodies (either through dancing, or their respective careers as glamour models) in a safe and respectable manner. This is a triumph of feminism, not a failing. To me, this music video really highlights just how far the women’s movement has taken us – to freedom and to liberty.
Lyrically, too, Thicke has caused a stir; however, if you pick his lyrics apart, an argument can be made that they are not as bad as first thought. Take, ‘The way you grab me, must wanna get nasty’, for example, this sounds to me very much like the foreplay of two consenting adults, while ‘That man is not your maker’ could actually be construed as a pro – feminist statement.
On the other hand, however, the song is overtly sexual and does contain other, more subjective lyrics, which could be construed as offensive. ‘What do they make dreams for, when you’ve got those jeans on’ could easily be seen as objectifying women, while ‘I know you want it’ a line used repeatedly, critics have argued that encourages victim blaming and a rape culture within society. Of course, victim blaming and a rape culture is not something that I perpetuate or would ever condone. However, I believe the problem is with the music industry more generally, not just Blurred Lines.
Take Ne- Yo’s ‘Let me love you’, for example, a song which contains the lines ‘Girl let me love you, until you learn to love yourself’, the subtext of which (to me) is, ‘Girl let me have sex with you, until you have some self – esteem’, hardly a pro – feminist statement. Akon’s ‘Smack That’ contains the out rightly offensive lyrics ‘Smack that all on the floor, Smack that give me some more, Smack that ’till you get sore’, in other words ‘Please continue to pleasure me, regardless of your feelings on the issue. Flo.rid.a’s ‘Whistle’ (‘Can you blow my whistle baby’) is a song expressly about oral sex and yet this received little attention upon release. We seem to have blurred viewpoints over what exactly is acceptable.
I am willing to admit that Blurred Lines also contains extremely contentious lyrics, and that yes, some of these are offensive (‘Just let me liberate you’ etc.). However, it perplexes me that this song in particular received so much attention, when within the industry the objectification is a much wider issue. Robin Thicke seems to have succeeded in one thing (two if you count his chart topping hit) and that is generating conversation about sexism and objectification. At its very minimum, this is the purpose of art, to get society engaging with what are important societal issues. Perhaps this song will be a catalyst for change within the industry, only time will tell. The song indicates to me that certain victories of the feminist movement should be celebrated, while others are just beginning.
Note – This article was originally published on the old Winterwind Productions site in October, 2013, prior to our switch to WordPress in 2020.